Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Free Broom With Purchase

Ladies and gentlemen, the Columbus Blue Jackets have swept the President's Trophy-winning, most wins ever in a season-tying, entirely-dominant-during-the-regular-season Tampa Bay Lightning out of the playoffs in what is one of the most stunning defeats ever, and likely the biggest defeat in the salary-cap era of parity in the NHL. They were forechecked into submission. They were outcoached over four-straight losses. They were out-goalied in the duel. And, at the end of the day, the Columbus Blue Jackets now await the winner of the Boston-Toronto series while the Lightning head back to Tampa to clean out their lockers after falling stunningly short once more.


Let's give credit where credit is due as the big players for Columbus stepped up and contributed in a big way. Matt Duchene, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, and Artemi Panarin were all over the scoresheets for the four games while Sergei Bobrovsky and the swarming Blue Jackets defence neutralized the Tampa Bay offence like no one has done this season. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point were made to look human by the Blue Jackets while they exposed a Tampa Bay defence who simply couldn't handle the waves of pressure as Andrei Vaskilevskiy was often left out on his own while the Blue Jackets peppered him with shots, often finding the back of the net. It was a debacle from the Tampa Bay view, but a glorious exercise in preparation and execution by the Columbus Blue Jackets as they executed with surgical precision in carving out the hearts of the Lightning fans.

Of course, if you're a Tampa Bay Lightning fan, it felt more like you were the guy in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom who had his heart ripped out by high priest Mola Ram. Your team, which piled up the wins all season by simply steamrolling teams early and often, had no answer for a basic 1-2-2 neutral zone formation. Yes, some will say it's a modified version of the trap, but it's an effective way of neutralizing the Lightning's speed through the neutral zone on which the Lightning attack was entirely based. Let the skilled players rip through the neutral zone, take a pass in full flight, and terrorize opposing goalies. Sound familiar? That's precisely how Jon Cooper had coached his system all season long.

Of course, it didn't help that Columbus got all sorts of secondary scoring from the likes of David Savard, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Alexandre Texier whereas the likes of Tyler Johnson, Anthony Cirelli, and Yanni Gourde couldn't replicate the same production for Tampa Bay. Seeing Bjorkstrand continue his magic with game-winning goals in his professional career is rather remarkable as he had both game-winning goals in Games Three and Four to go along with his 2016 AHL record-tying six game-winners in 17 games as he helped the Lake Erie Monsters win the Calder Cup. If the puck is on his stick in a playoff game, there's a good chance someone is fishing it out of a net based on his production in his career.

Regardless of who produced and who didn't, history will show that the Blue Jackets won their first franchise playoff series by becoming the first team to eliminate the President's Trophy winner in a sweep. At the end of the day, it's all about sixteen wins. Columbus is one-quarter of the way there while Tampa Bay will reset and look to 2019-20 as explanations for this epic destruction will be sought. With the sweep by Columbus, the Eastern Conference is now wide-open for any team to win, but one would think that one would want to avoid running into the Blue Jackets. No team has ever won the Stanley Cup by going 16-0, but the Blue Jackets look dialled in right now to pull off that feat after this dismantling of the Lightning.

Maybe they'll start handing out free brooms with season ticket renewals for next season?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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